China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has announced a crack down on unauthorized VPN usage in the country. The notice states that any VPN service operating within the country will require prior government approval, instantly making most VPN services illegal.
The government notice described the action as a "clean-up" of the nation's internet connections with the crackdown beginning immediately. The ministry says that the country's internet requires "urgent regulation and governance," in order to "strengthen cyberspace information security management."
China has an enormous internet population, with over 700 million users comprising of almost one in four of the world's online population. The country is also home to one of the most comprehensive internet censorship mechanisms on the planet, anecdotally known as The Great Firewall. China's relationship with VPN usage in the country has long been contentious with the government understanding the necessity of maintaining a precarious balance between censorship, while still allowing domestic and foreign businesses a degree of cross-border information access.
In 2016 the Washington Post reported VPN access varied across the country. IT hubs in major cities on the east coast were found to have minor restrictions while more isolated areas in the west were found to have almost all known VPN-protocols blocked. China has also been known to ramp up broader VPN blockages when its larger political gatherings have taken place. The last of which, in March of 2016, found many in Beijing complaining of significant outages and business disruptions.
This new announcement again syncs up with a major political reshuffle. The 19th National Congress will take place in autumn, and then in early 2018 a five-yearly government overhaul is due. The recent announcement from the Chinese government states the crackdown will run from now until March 31, 2018.
It's yet to be seen how dramatic the roll out of the VPN block will be, for both those living inside China and for businesses operating internationally. Anecdotal reports of the impact have already started to filter out with some claiming that VPN services have failed or slowed down. China has certainly placed another brick in its great firewall.